A Malaysian editor could take the helm of Ming Pao in as little as two weeks, despite a revolt by journalists who see the new hire as a threat to the Chinese-language newspaper's editorial independence.
Reporters and editors at the 55-year-old daily condemned the management's decision two weeks ago to move chief editor Kevin Lau Chun-to to a new role, especially after Chong Tien Siong - whom they say has no knowledge of local affairs - emerged as front-runner to replace him.
Tiong Hiew King, executive director of parent company Media Chinese International, said yesterday that Lau would take over immediately at its online division MediaNet Resources. Editorial director Cheung Kin-bor would act as editor, a post he held until 2012, until further notice.
He did not confirm Chong's appointment, but sources revealed that management told staff Cheung would serve on an interim basis before being replaced by Chong, former editor of the company's Malaysian paper Nanyang Siang Pau, in between two weeks and three months.
Ming Pao's editorial changes came to light two weeks ago.
Editorial staff have since formed a concern group and demanded that Lau's move be put on hold.
But a second round of talks between staff and bosses broke down yesterday as management insisted on going ahead with Chong's appointment. With tears in their eyes, staff representatives revealed they had failed to reach an agreement over the changes.
"We are strongly dissatisfied and the [decision] is extremely regrettable," said Sin Wan-kei, a member of the concern group.
About 110 staff members stood outside the newspaper's headquarters in silent protest after the announcement.
They said they were expressing their desire that the newspaper would continue to speak up for society.
The group said Chong had failed to satisfy the requirement for the chief editor's post: that he should uphold freedom of expression, understand Hong Kong's situation and win the trust of journalists and management.
But Cheung spoke up for management as he said Tiong - as the boss - had the right to appoint whoever he trusted.
Four more Ming Pao writers left their columns blank yesterday in protest at the changes, following in the footsteps of pan-democrat heavyweight Martin Lee Chu-ming.
Professor Anthony Fung Ying-him, director of Chinese University's journalism school, said worries remained because Chong "had no track record at Ming Pao".